The postseason felt like a pipe dream after this one.
The salve for another hurting team, the Heat missed a perfect opportunity Friday night at Air Canada Centre to link together back-to-back wins and, in losing to the Raptors 102-92, Miami once again lost its tenuous hold on the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
The Heat fell to ninth place in the East, and now plays LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday.
The Raptors (39-26) entered the game losers of nine of their past 10 games, but they had no problems with the Heat (29-36), which was awful despite a return to the court of Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who served a one-game suspension Wednesday. The Heat was 5 of 23 from three-point range and committed 20 turnovers.
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The Raptors ended a 16-game losing streak against the Heat that had stretched for more than five years.
Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 25 points, going 9 of 13 from the field and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line, but he didn’t have much help behind him. Goran Dragic had 18 points, and Michael Beasley had 11 points off the bench. Meanwhile, five players scored in double figures for the Raptors.
“We just couldn’t quite … we just couldn’t quite,” Wade said. “Whatever that next word is, we just couldn’t quite do it. It was one of these games where even when it felt like it was starting to go right we turned it over too much and gave them too many easy opportunities.”
The Heat trailed by 21 points with 10:32 left in the game and cut the Raptors’ lead to 11 with two minutes to play. The rally was more a product of Toronto’s own turnovers, however, than anything the Heat accomplished. The Raptors had 17 turnovers in the victory.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry turned in the game’s best performance. He had 19 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and seven steals. DeMar DeRozan had 18 points on an off shooting night (3 of 12), and Lou Williams had 14 points off the bench despite going 4 of 12 from the field.
In other words, the Raptors won ugly in what seemed like a repeat of the Heat’s frustrating road loss to the Washington Wizards last Friday. In that game, the Heat rallied from a 35-point deficit but lost by a point.
“We just didn’t play well,” said Heat coach Spoelstra, who noted that his team needs a day of rest on Saturday to regroup. The team will practice Sunday before playing the Cavaliers on Monday.
The Heat has played at a severe disadvantage ever since Chris Bosh was ruled out for the remainder of the season with blood clots, but Miami was handed a reprieve before tipoff when the Raptors scratched center Jonas Valanciunas from the lineup. With Valanciunas away after the birth of his child, the circumstances couldn’t have been better for Whiteside’s return to the lineup.
Turns out, Whiteside’s presence didn’t much matter. The Heat’s 7-foot center had nine points and 12 rebounds, and the Heat outrebounded the Raptors 44-43, but poor shooting and turnovers undid that advantage.
“The turnovers were really crippling, and we could never get into a rhythm,” Spoelstra said. “When you turn it into a possession game like that, and you do not take care of your possessions, and do not get them off that three-point line, it makes it tough.”
The Raptors were 12 of 33 from three-point range with Lowry going 5 of 8 from distance.
For the Raptors, Tyler Hansbrough started in place of Valanciunas, but the aggressive Hansbrough never provoked Whiteside, who played 25 minutes without incident. On Monday, he was ejected from a game against Boston after a hard foul on Celtics center Kelly Olynyk. A week prior, Whiteside was ejected for tackling Phoenix Suns center Alex Len.
Whiteside kept his cool against the Raptors.
“They was trying to do stuff to me, and Kyle Lowry knocked me into the first row, but I didn’t say nothing or do nothing to even pay that any attention,” Whiteside said.
The Heat made it official and signed Henry Walker for the rest of the season before the game in Toronto. Pulled up from the Heat’s D-League affiliate, Walker joined the team on a 10-day contract on Feb.21 amid a complete roster makeover. Bosh had just been diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung, the Heat had just traded away several players for the Dragic brothers, and Wade was returning from a hamstring injury.
Walker was an immediate asset during that chaotic time thanks to his previous experience in the NBA and his familiarity with the Heat’s system after playing for the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Suspended for a game without pay, Whiteside watched Wednesday’s game against the Nets at his apartment.
“It hurt,” Whiteside said. “It felt weird just watching the guys on TV, but I’m glad that we won. I was just at home and cheering.”
Whiteside said he was “really excited” to rejoin his teammates for the trip to Toronto. He added that the reason for his rash of ejections and technical fouls last week was related to off-the-court issues.
“I guess I really had a lot going on in my personal life,” Whiteside said. “I don’t want to really speak on it, but it won’t happen again.”
The Heat is hopeful Whiteside’s judgment during games improves. After all, the Heat needs the talented center if it hopes to make a run in the playoffs.
“We made our message,” Spoelstra said. “We talked to him enough over the last three days. So, he’s back in the mix, and we’re all ready to move forward.”